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Rory McIlroy
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Northern Irishman in perfect form after Players win

Timing is everything in sport and ahead of the biggest summer of his career, Rory McIlroy is at the top of his game at the perfect moment.

The 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year is gearing up for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush in his native Northern Ireland, when the Claret Jug will head across the Irish Sea for the first time in 68 years.

And on Sunday, he put down a marker in impressive fashion, holding his nerve to win a thrilling Players Championship by one stroke from Jim Furyk.

The Players offers a perfect indication of where someone is ahead of an intense summer, with four majors in four months, starting at the Masters and finishing at The Open, where the Champion Golfer of the Year is crowned.

RORY SEES IT THROUGH

McIlroy has already spoken of the significance of playing at Royal Portrush and the 29-year-old is on a mission to ensure he arrives at the first hole in the form of his life.

2019 had been frustrating after a number of near-misses but now the plan seems to be coming together.

With his rivals sinking birdies and the leaderboard closing up with every hole, McIlroy kept his cool to birdie 15 and 16.

“I am very proud, very honoured, to be able to call myself a Players champion, a tournament I haven't won before, so great to obviously add to the CV,” he said.

"I thought anything in the 60s was probably going to get it done for me, and I didn’t quite get to that number but I needed to show a lot of character out there, too – over through four, double-bogeyed four, hit it in the water.

“I think all the experiences I’ve had over the last few weeks in terms of trying to win and not getting over the line definitely helped me.

“Maybe if I hadn’t have had those experiences, I wouldn’t be sitting up here with this trophy, so I'm thankful and grateful for those experiences I’ve had this year.

“Yes, it would have been nice to maybe get another win, but it sort of made it all worth it, the fact that this win has come at this golf tournament, a tournament where TPC Sawgrass and I didn’t have the greatest relationship starting off, and I’m very thankful to the PGA Tour for putting it back to March. That was very helpful for me.”

CLASS OF HIS OWN

It is easy to forget, with how much he has already achieved, that McIlroy is still in his 20s.

Win at the Masters next month and he will be one of just three players to have won every major and The Players. The other two are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

He is also one of three players to have won 15 PGA Tour events, including four majors, by the age of 30 since The Masters joined the circuit in 1934. The other two are also Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Ahead of the annual trip to Augusta National next month, McIlroy’s last six results read: T4, T5, T4, 2, T6 and 1.

Although far from finished with his career, McIlroy is creating a legacy that will last.

PLAYERS CHAMPIONS LINE UP

McIlroy will tee it up at Royal Portrush with Si Woo Kim and Webb Simpson, the previous two Players champions.

The last three winners of The Players are exempt to play in The Open, although McIlroy belongs to several categories – including Champion Golfers aged 60 or under.

Simpson secured his best Open result in seven attempts last summer with a T12 finish at Carnoustie, while Si Woo Kim secured a T67 on the Angus links.